The characters of Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Watch the trailer here.
Okay so Moonrise Kingdom was ass. Have we reached critical Wes Anderson saturation point yet? I feel like with Darjeeling Express I’ve had enough (mind, I really enjoyed that one). So who am I kidding, I’ll bite again.
So I thought I’d do this in one big post. You didn’t think I’d just stop at PC and forget about Priscilla? (I named my Vita Priscilla because it’s a Crystal White edition and one of the wallpapers I have for it is Crossbreed Priscilla from Dark Souls… Shut up)
Vita 5 Countdown also sounds snappier than My Five Favorite PS Vita Titles for 2013. Okay then, here we go:
#5 Guacamelee! / insert PSN indie here - TIE
By rights, Guacamelee! should flat-out win this as it’s: 1) a highly playable Metroidvania with some of the tightest combat and platforming I’ve touched 2) absolutely gorgeous to look at with those colours and that Mexican motif 3) it’s a homegrown Toronto indie. The reason it doesn’t sit all that comfortably at #5 is because, well, I didn’t take to it as strongly as I was led to believe I would. There’s problems with some difficulty spikes and some occasional pacing issues (complaining about pacing issues in a Metroidvania you say? Yes, I do say). It’s still an excellent game through and through, but there have also been other gems to boot on PSN/PSM that deserve this spot too, such as Velocity Ultra, Super Stardust Delta and more recently, Passing Time.
#4 Dragon’s Crown
When all is said and done, what you’ll remember from this game is that it plays really well, it looks really good, but you won’t really remember what exactly transpired on screen as it was all a blur of colours, shapes and chaos. Never mind the liberal interpretation of human anatomy, or the sexist tropes, or the paper-thin fantasy plot; the game will go down in memory as a mechanically solid and aesthetically generous (to say the least) addition in the much forgotten beat em up genre. It’s probably the most lavish of all the beat em ups ever created, with a huge variety of unique classes to master, a ton of loot and skill trees to sink time into, and Vanillaware’s lavish artwork, which leaves little to the imagination, putting everything in your face until you can’t see the wood for the erm, breasts and buttocks.
Special mention also goes to Basiscape for creating a suitably rich and grand soundtrack. Much has been talked about the visuals, but little due given to the stellar sound production by Hitoshi Sakimoto’s team.
#3 Gravity Rush / Gravity Daze
Sony Studio Japan’s Vita debut still remains one of its best titles, almost 2 years later. What originally began as a PS3 title makes the transition to handheld using just the right amount of the Vita’s features to be welcome and not gimmicky. It’s a superhero game where it allows you to feel like a superhero and not a walking armory of gadgets, bullshit alien powers and Traumatic Backstory Baggage. The plot is unintentionally obtuse or is leaving room for the eventual sequel, but how and why Kat’s powers work the way they do is irrelevant. She is simply Kat, the Gravity Queen, and she can do wonderful things. She does them because she can, and she uses her powers for good because helping people gives her joy. Like I’ve said elsewhere, this is literally the closest I’ll get to playing a Kiki’s Delivery Service game, so yay (followed by a tear).
Really, at this point, if all we got in the West for Vita localizations were Studio Japan’s games, I’d be okay. They really have some of Sony’s brightest working there, and clearly have their priorities straight (to wit: excellent gameplay > aesthetics > innovation, in that order).
Again, special mention to Kohei Tanaka for his absolutely magical soundtrack. Tunes this eclectic, playful and whimsical deserve a place in your iTunes collection.
#2 Zero Escape Vol. 2: Virtue’s Last Reward
This placement is a little controversial in my heart, because in a perfect world, it and No. 1 would both be tops, together, holding hands, kissing each other, and farting rainbows. I’m also pretty proud of myself for playing through the first game before diving into this, as the payoff was exponentially more rewarding (is that the reward? the virtue of diligence? why is this the last reward?) when playing this as part of a planned trilogy (FUN FACT: it wasn’t intended to be a trilogy at first).
There’s so many little things that make this game the special gem that is. It plays with the messy and often unmanageable time travel tropes in ways that would give lesser writers headaches. It references Kurt Vonnegut, among other things. It nestles yet more nods and allusions in ways that only a devoted TV Tropes fiend could appreciate (incidentally, The Developer Thinks of Everything is totally applicable to this game). It has some of the craziest character reveals yet seen in any fiction. It has feels; oh boy does it have feels and it’s not afraid of dumping them on you in big, fat payloads of tears.
It’s basically one of the most satisfying and forward-thinking marriages between narrative and game design out there. It’s a delicious visual novel sandwiched between layers of mostly solid (though frequently bullshit) puzzle solving, but the end result is something much more. Uchikoshi Kotaro has got my full attention (and pre-order in the bag); bring on Zero Escape Vol. 3.
#1 Persona 4: The Golden
What the hell did you think would be here? Valhalla Knights 3? KickBeat? FIFA?
Yes, it’s the Vita’s perennial crowd favorite (and reigning Metacritic heavyweight), at least for another foreseeable year or more until Atlus announces Trauma Team x SMT All-Stars vs Demon’s Souls Ultimate or something. Truthfully though, the awesome yet sad fact is that nothing in the Vita’s near-future (or entire lifespan) will likely topple Persona 4 Golden, nothing.
While technically a PS2 game but released in the 7th console gen, P4 is something special in that it feels so fresh, so timeless and simply so cool that it really exists out of time and fashion. It’s frequently pandering and relentlessly optimistic, yet always earnest, moving and frequently introspective. It’s a lean and mean RPG, with quick, punchy combat and streamlined usability features in this re-release, and yet the core of its story takes time to unwind as the best slow-burns tend to. You’ll come to laugh, cry, and yearn for Inaba whenever you’re away from your Vita.
The ingredients are all familiar, but the sum of its parts is something approaching, if not nailing right in the bullseye, that little used qualifier: perfection.
It’s just like one of your Japanese animes and nothing like it.
callow-maturity asked: there is gonna be a sequel!
"I want to believe." - Agent Dale Cooper from the show Sherlock
Also, hello there (:
My Top 5 PC games of 2013
No. whatever/bonus/honorable mention - Psychonauts
This doesn’t actually mean Psychonauts came 6th, but simply for the fact that I finished this in early March, my memory of it is quite fuzzy, and I forgot to slot it into the list before, lol.
All you need to know about this game is that there won’t be an HD remaster; that there will never be a sequel; nor will this come to mobile platforms anytime soon (ie. real platforms, like the 3DS or Vita). Now that your heart has sunk a couple inches into your chest cavity, might I remind you that you can still pick up this gem at a very reasonable price at your friendly GOG and Steam or wherever and that you should do so post-haste. That is all.
My Top 5 PC games of 2013
No. 1 - Tomb Raider
I’ll be honest here, nothing that came out in 2013 (that I played, and on PC) really set me alight. Chalk it up to the fact that my tastes and expectations change. Or, attribute it to the fact that we didn’t get a Portal 2 or Arkham City or Deus Ex: Human Revolution or Fallout: New Vegas.Whichever way you put it, I feel this game earns its place here simply by virtue of not fucking up a whole generation’s worth of gameplay refinements, tropes and expectations.
That doesn’t sound very charitable, does it? Look, Square Enix stepped it up big time in these past 3 years by investing a lot into their Western studios and franchises, and it shows. Tomb Raider is a quality experience through and through, but it’s one that’s frictionless and a bit lacking in personality.
You’ve heard the criticisms before, but I’ll reiterate: this game is the illegitimate child of a dozen different gameplay mechanics lifted from other games. It lacks an identity to call its own, playing like equal parts Assassin’s Creed, Arkham, Gears of War and even some FarCry 3 for good measure. The much praised character growth of Lara sits at odds with her video game heroine construction. The trigger-inducing scandal.
And, there wasn’t enough tomb raiding. I mean seriously, there are like 5 tombs that a child could solve with the turbo button left on hold.
Despite all this baggage, I thoroughly enjoyed the game. It struck a fine line between the illusion of an open-world and the linearity of a story-driven game. The XP system, while stupid at first, actually makes a lot of sense from a design and narrative standpoint. The bow? Easily the best signature weapon slash gadget this year.
Oh and Lara’s redesign is tops. Those boots, man. Those are awesome boots.
There are some dire takeaways from all this too: Squeenix deemed it a commercial disappointment, despite selling like wildfire across all platforms, for a reboot of a once tarnished and aged franchise. For a game that cost $200 million, you have to wonder what they expected for their returns? It worries me as AAA games become more bloated, market-tested and homogenized, we’ll be seeing less risk taking, more franchise resuscitating (and in less capable hands than these) and sharper penny-pinching practices (the DLC packs for TR can fuck right off). Tomb Raider, while a fine product that Crystal Dynamics can be proud of, still sits uneasy as a potential portent for things to come.
My Top 5 PC games of 2013
No. 2 - Borderlands 2
I’m glad I was gifted this, because I would’ve never played it owing to THE BACKLOG and what I falsely believed to be Gearbox trying too hard to be funny and zany with the art style. I’m here to clarify two things: 1) the writing in this game is superb (both incidental dialogue and the quest text is great) and 2) as far as cell-shaded styles go, Borderlands 2 is generous, distinct and simply flat out handsome (Jack).
Now, I’m not really one for Diablo-likes, but this one grabbed me and grabbed me pretty hard. Open all the crates! Sell all the white items! Pick up all the dolla dolla bills, ya’ll! This game represents the pinnacle of the shoot and loot (it damn near invented it) and it’ll be hard for BL3 to top it (in fact, the same adage for trilogies often holds true for video games; 3rd games simply suck).
Special mention to Gaige and Ellie for being two of the coolest sweethearts in recent memory. Seriously, if neither of these two girls can get you to crack a smile, nothing will.
Also 2K/Gearbox, chill out with the DLC and re-releases okay? Do you want to tie with Bethesda for Most Money-Grubbing Publisher of Them All? Will you tie with EA and call it a truce?
My Top 5 PC games of 2013
No. 3 - Sleeping Dogs
When people try to tell me how great X Open World Game is I usually go “Oh wow look at the time…” and walk away slowly, then run full tilt. This wasn’t always the case of course, as I have fond memories of playing GTA: Vice City & San Andreas. More recently in this past generation though, snorefests like Assassin’s Creed and the worst offender, Rockstar’s own GTA IV felt pointless, padded, and more importantly, plodding.
Look developers, if you’re going to give me a big open space, the secret to making it compelling isn’t jamming it full of pointless distractions (I’m past the desire for real-world simulacra; I’m not 12 years old anymore), but give me a nice and brisk way of traversing it. As an adult with limited time and patience, slow and dull methods of travel are all the more aggravating.
Lo and behold Square Enix’s own take on the GTA formula, where they’ve gone and solved this problem admirably and with panache. True, the Arkham games did this best with Batman’s grapple, but could Batman car-jack like Wei Shen? Not likely.
Everything else about the game is solid if not particularly well-cooked. The fighting is fine, the mission-ing is fine, the city design is gorgeous and the Chinglish is actually more than passable (ie. it’s not Deus Ex levels of Jay Cee Denton in da fweshhhh). The soundtrack is absolutely killer, even if some of the choices are a bit odd and play more like what the developer had on his iPod at the time and not something more meticulously picked, like Rockstar’s offerings.
But the killer app in all this? That fucking car jacking mechanic, man. Glorious.
My Top 5 PC games of 2013
No. 4 - DmC Devil May Cry
I’ve never played a DMC title before, so I’ve no idea if it’s really as bad as people make it out to be. If this is easy mode character-action gaming, then count me out of the big boy stuff as I had a lot of difficulty maintaining an S-rank throughout and died frequently on Nephilim.
Ninja Theory does a lot with the Unreal Engine. Technically, this title has some of the best facial animation/direction I’ve seen. The colour palette is gorgeous while some of the boss and level designs are pretty wild. Mechanically though, the fights were mostly ho-hum and the platforming can eat a dick.
Dante, Vergil and Kat are genuinely likeable in that Scooby Doo squad saves the world kind of fashion. It could do with more dialogue; the whole game is just really quiet and should do more to flesh out these characters, because there’s a lot to like. Needs a better script (and maybe the Nolan North spark, though everyone is more than serviceable here), but what’s here is a robust and frequently entertaining button masher.
My Top 5 PC games of 2013
So! My modem died, which means I’ve been playing a few of my offline Steam titles. I also have some time to kill right now and seeing as we’re in the home stretch of the release calendar, I wouldn’t call this list premature. These are some of the titles I’ve managed to play and enjoy this year, not titles necessarily released in 2013, with the cut-off point being post-February; anything played before counts as 2012: see disqualifications.*
No. 5 - The Typing of the Dead: Overkill
SEGA released this surprise gem on us during Halloween and I had to pick it up instantly. It’s very short at 3+ hours (more if you replay for S ranks and the included House of the Dead: Overkill), but it’s a quality game through and through. It serves as a great parody of, while being a legitimate entry in and of itself, of the nu-grindhouse genre.
It’s basically Rodriguez’s Planet Terror x Left 4 Dead x House of the Dead, and that is an okay combination by me. The writing is clever, the levels are inventive, and the soundtrack is very appropriate.
Disqualified entries: Dishonored, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Hotline Miami
By JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER
NY Times Published: June 8, 2013
A COUPLE of weeks ago, I saw a stranger crying in public. I was in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood, waiting to meet a friend for breakfast. I arrived at the restaurant a few minutes early and was sitting on the bench outside, scrolling through my contact list. A girl, maybe 15 years old, was sitting on the bench opposite me, crying into her phone. I heard her say, “I know, I know, I know” over and over.
What did she know? Had she done something wrong? Was she being comforted? And then she said, “Mama, I know,” and the tears came harder.
What was her mother telling her? Never to stay out all night again? That everybody fails? Is it possible that no one was on the other end of the call, and that the girl was merely rehearsing a difficult conversation?
“Mama, I know,” she said, and hung up, placing her phone on her lap.
I was faced with a choice: I could interject myself into her life, or I could respect the boundaries between us. Intervening might make her feel worse, or be inappropriate. But then, it might ease her pain, or be helpful in some straightforward logistical way. An affluent neighborhood at the beginning of the day is not the same as a dangerous one as night is falling. And I was me, and not someone else. There was a lot of human computing to be done.
It is harder to intervene than not to, but it is vastly harder to choose to do either than to retreat into the scrolling names of one’s contact list, or whatever one’s favorite iDistraction happens to be. Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat. The phone didn’t make me avoid the human connection, but it did make ignoring her easier in that moment, and more likely, by comfortably encouraging me to forget my choice to do so. My daily use of technological communication has been shaping me into someone more likely to forget others. The flow of water carves rock, a little bit at a time. And our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our habits.
Psychologists who study empathy and compassion are finding that unlike our almost instantaneous responses to physical pain, it takes time for the brain to comprehend the psychological and moral dimensions of a situation. The more distracted we become, and the more emphasis we place on speed at the expense of depth, the less likely and able we are to care.
Everyone wants his parent’s, or friend’s, or partner’s undivided attention — even if many of us, especially children, are getting used to far less. Simone Weil wrote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” By this definition, our relationships to the world, and to one another, and to ourselves, are becoming increasingly miserly.
Most of our communication technologies began as diminished substitutes for an impossible activity. We couldn’t always see one another face to face, so the telephone made it possible to keep in touch at a distance. One is not always home, so the answering machine made a kind of interaction possible without the person being near his phone. Online communication originated as a substitute for telephonic communication, which was considered, for whatever reasons, too burdensome or inconvenient. And then texting, which facilitated yet faster, and more mobile, messaging. These inventions were not created to be improvements upon face-to-face communication, but a declension of acceptable, if diminished, substitutes for it.
But then a funny thing happened: we began to prefer the diminished substitutes. It’s easier to make a phone call than to schlep to see someone in person. Leaving a message on someone’s machine is easier than having a phone conversation — you can say what you need to say without a response; hard news is easier to leave; it’s easier to check in without becoming entangled. So we began calling when we knew no one would pick up.
Shooting off an e-mail is easier, still, because one can hide behind the absence of vocal inflection, and of course there’s no chance of accidentally catching someone. And texting is even easier, as the expectation for articulateness is further reduced, and another shell is offered to hide in. Each step “forward” has made it easier, just a little, to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey information rather than humanity.
THE problem with accepting — with preferring — diminished substitutes is that over time, we, too, become diminished substitutes. People who become used to saying little become used to feeling little.
With each generation, it becomes harder to imagine a future that resembles the present. My grandparents hoped I would have a better life than they did: free of war and hunger, comfortably situated in a place that felt like home. But what futures would I dismiss out of hand for my grandchildren? That their clothes will be fabricated every morning on 3-D printers? That they will communicate without speaking or moving?
Only those with no imagination, and no grounding in reality, would deny the possibility that they will live forever. It’s possible that many reading these words will never die. Let’s assume, though, that we all have a set number of days to indent the world with our beliefs, to find and create the beauty that only a finite existence allows for, to wrestle with the question of purpose and wrestle with our answers.
We often use technology to save time, but increasingly, it either takes the saved time along with it, or makes the saved time less present, intimate and rich. I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts. It’s not an either/or — being “anti-technology” is perhaps the only thing more foolish than being unquestioningly “pro-technology” — but a question of balance that our lives hang upon.
Most of the time, most people are not crying in public, but everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word or deep empathy. There is no better use of a life than to be attentive to such needs. There are as many ways to do this as there are kinds of loneliness, but all of them require attentiveness, all of them require the hard work of emotional computation and corporeal compassion. All of them require the human processing of the only animal who risks “getting it wrong” and whose dreams provide shelters and vaccines and words to crying strangers.
We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.
The Fiery Furnaces - Oh Sweet Woods
Did ya’ll forget about this?
Look at these cool kids. They all have a seat on the Persona 5 hype mobile, do you?